Governance of Solar Radiation Management

This is a writeup of a shallow investigation, a brief look at an area that we use to decide how to prioritize further research.

In a nutshell

  • What is the problem? Solar radiation management is a type of geoengineering that aims to cool the earth by reflecting sunlight away from it. As a category, solar radiation management appears to be both riskier and closer to being ready for use than other types of geoengineering. However, there are currently no specific systems in place to govern research into solar radiation management, or its deployment at any scale. Whether or not solar radiation management turns out to be safe and beneficial, we believe improved governance would make it more likely that decisions about research and deployment of the technology are made wisely and in the interests of humanity as a whole.
  • What are possible interventions? A philanthropist interested in supporting the governance of solar radiation management could fund research into possible approaches to governance, or encourage discussion of and education about this issue among decision-makers and the general public.
  • Who else is working on it? Funding for governance initiatives is limited, and comes mostly from government-funded agencies. We believe there is currently little private philanthropy in this area.


Published: October 2015

What is the problem?

What is solar radiation management?

During our investigation into geoengineering, we repeatedly heard about the lack of governance around the research and deployment of solar radiation management (SRM). SRM is a type of geoengineering which aims to reflect away a small percentage of the sunlight directed towards the earth. It is expected to have a cooling effect on the planet, but may not counteract other effects of high carbon dioxide concentrations (such as ocean acidification).

SRM is one of two main types of geoengineering; the other is carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which aims to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere after it has already been emitted. We have focused on the governance of SRM because our impression is that as a technology it is generally cheaper, riskier, and closer to being ready for deployment.1

Several possible approaches to SRM have been proposed; the two that we have seen discussed most frequently are injecting sulfate particles into the stratosphere and using saltwater spray to brighten clouds.2 Both of these techniques have been brought to researchers’ attention by effects which have already been observed in the physical environment: the idea of injecting aerosols into the stratosphere is based on the cooling effect that follows the release of large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere during volcanic eruptions; the idea of brightening clouds is based on observations of brightened areas of clouds produced by aerosol particles in the exhaust emissions of commercial cargo ships.3 Beyond these observations, the current scientific understanding of SRM comes mostly from modeling studies using climate simulations. Studies of this kind examining aerosols in the stratosphere suggest that it may be possible to create large cooling effects without the need for many (or any) major technological breakthroughs, and at a relatively low cost.4

We note that scientists and policymakers interested in SRM research emphasize that they do not see SRM as a replacement for climate change mitigation (i.e. global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).5 Rather, it is generally considered worth developing as part of a suite of possible responses to climate change, or as a tool to be used only in the event of particularly dangerous or severe climate change.6

What is SRM governance?

‘Governance’ in this context refers both to ‘hard’ governance, such as government regulations or international treaties, and ‘soft’ governance, such as codes of conduct or community norms. We believe it could be beneficial to support the development of governance mechanisms relating both to scientific research into SRM, and to possible deployment of SRM. (In the footnote, we describe two cases of potentially risky technologies which were subject to specific governance arrangements while under development, which could provide a precedent for governance arrangements around SRM research.)7

In this shallow investigation, we focus on governance of research, mostly due to our impression that this is likely to be relevant on a shorter time frame than governance of deployment. Possible approaches to the governance of SRM research could include researcher-driven codes of conduct, national regulations, or international treaties.

Why is SRM governance important?

Deployment of SRM may be risky and its potential effects are poorly understood; if deployed, it might help reduce the harmful effects of climate change, but would likely have global effects which might be difficult to reverse; it also appears that it would be low-cost and relatively straightforward to deploy.8

Taken together, we find these to be strong reasons to support some form of governance in order to ensure, firstly, that research into SRM is well-directed and safe; and secondly, that if the technology is ever ready to be deployed, decisions about its use are made in the interests of the global community.

We find that thinking in terms of possible worst-case scenarios clarifies why one could believe that improved governance of SRM could be important, without necessarily supporting the development or use of the technology itself. Roughly, we see four possible scenarios in which handling SRM poorly could cause bad outcomes:

  • If SRM is not used when it should have been, or too little SRM is used, or it is used too late (i.e. if extreme climate change occurs, and SRM could have safely reduced its effects but is not deployed);
  • If SRM is used when it should not have been, or too much is used, or it is used too soon (i.e. if someone capable of deploying SRM decides to do so, but it has large negative side effects, or if an experiment which is carried out causes damage in some way);
  • If SRM is successfully deployed, but its use is abruptly terminated in a way that causes harm (i.e. if SRM is being used to counteract the warming effects of high greenhouse gas levels, then if SRM suddenly stopped being used, the earth could potentially experience large, rapid rises in temperature);9
  • If disagreements about SRM lead to conflict (we find this especially plausible if the benefits and harms of deployment would be unevenly spread, and one state or group were planning to act unilaterally).

It is difficult to estimate how bad each of these four scenarios could be. Taking them in order:

  • Our page on extreme risks from climate change puts the chance of climate change having much worse effects than expected (greater than 6.4ºC warming by 2100) at around 10%, but we are highly uncertain about what this would mean for human welfare.
  • According to researchers, SRM might have unintended effects on many features of the global climate, including precipitation, atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns, and ozone levels.10 We have not seen any research attempting to describe these changes in terms of humanitarian effects, but our understanding is that they could potentially be destructive.
  • We have heard from several people that the possible negative effects of ceasing to deploy SRM after it has been in use for some time represent a major unknown, and could be severe. In particular, the possibility of rapid warming resulting from SRM ‘termination’ is seen as potentially much more dangerous than more gradual warming due to gradual greenhouse gas accumulation. 11
  • Likewise, although it is difficult to predict the results of a hypothetical conflict over SRM, it does not seem unreasonable to believe that the humanitarian costs could be very large, especially if one or more major powers were involved.

We believe that these possible scenarios illustrate how improved governance of SRM could be important, even if it turns out that the technology is dangerous and should not be used. In each of the scenarios, robust governance arrangements that are specifically designed for the case of SRM would presumably make it more likely that good decisions are made about what research is done, and about how and whether to use SRM. If research is governed well, it will be less likely that dangerous experiments are carried out or that research gets halted prematurely; a well-functioning governance system for deployment would make it more likely that SRM deployment could be prevented if it would be dangerous, and supported if it would be beneficial, without resorting to armed conflict.

The strongest consideration we have found against supporting the field (even if only indirectly, via supporting governance initiatives) is the possibility that it could lead to a ‘slippery slope’ towards deployment, sometimes called ‘technological lock-in’. The idea is that as research continues, it will gather momentum as well as funders and supporters whose influence will grow with the field.12 However, we feel that this risk is outweighed by the considerations outlined above.

What are possible interventions?

Governance of SRM research is being actively discussed by climate change and geoengineering scientists, as well as policymakers. There have been repeated calls for the formation of some kind of governance strategy for SRM research; some common themes have surfaced, including points of agreement and questions for further deliberation. More detail in the footnote.13

We see several avenues that a philanthropist interested in supporting the governance of SRM research could pursue. These include:

  • Funding research into the governance of scientific fields in general, or of SRM research in particular. Research of this kind could include investigating precedent cases (i.e. other scientific fields which have been subject to field-specific governance), or developing proposals for the case of SRM research.
  • Supporting efforts to move towards the formation of some kind of governance agreement or roadmap. This could take the form of:
    • Supporting convenings or conferences for the relevant decision-makers; this could be some combination of SRM scientists, scientific policy experts, government officials, environmentalists, and others.
    • Outreach or education campaigns to increase public understanding and awareness of SRM and the issues surrounding it.
    • Advocacy in support of a particular approach to governance; this could be directed towards governments, scientists, international bodies, or funders, for example.

At this point we have not put significant time into considering how to promote the governance of SRM deployment, although we believe that approaches similar to those listed above could be adapted for the development of governance systems for deployment. We also find it plausible that the systems developed to govern research will have significant influence on how deployment is eventually governed.14

Who else is working on this?

Below we list some agencies and funders we have identified as contributing funding to projects relating to SRM governance. During our 2013 investigation of geoengineering, we compiled a spreadsheet of solar geoengineering projects and their funding sources. Two of these projects are explicitly focused on governance, and we identified several others which relate at least partially to governance; funders of these projects appear below.15 We also list below the funders of the four geoengineering reports which have informed this investigation.16 Each report includes significant coverage of SRM governance issues.

  • Funders of projects listed in our spreadsheet of geoengineering projects with at least some governance component:
    • National Science Foundation (NSF)
    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
    • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
    • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
    • UK Natural Environment Research Council
    • UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
    • UK Economic and Social Research Council
    • UK Arts and Humanities Research Council
    • German Research Foundation (DFG)
    • German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
    • Brandenburg Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts
    • Academy of Finland’s Research Program on Climate Change (FICCA)
    • EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7)
    • Bill Gates
  • Organizations which have funded reports on SRM:
    • The Royal Society
    • Bipartisan Policy Center
    • Environmental Defense Fund
    • The World Academy of Sciences
    • The Carbon War Room
    • Zennström Philanthropies
    • Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER)
    • Bipartisan Policy Center
    • National Academy of Sciences
    • NOAA
    • NASA
    • US Department of Energy

Our impression, which is borne out by this list, is that most current funding for SRM governance comes from government agencies or government-funded bodies, while private philanthropy in this area is very limited.17 We would guess that total funding directed towards SRM governance is currently less than $10 million per year. When we investigated geoengineering in 2013, we identified approximately $11 million per year of funding for geoengineering projects which explicitly included a solar geoengineering (SRM) component.18 However, these projects do not necessarily relate to governance, and we believe only a fraction of that funding was directed towards SRM governance.19

We have not searched extensively for new SRM governance projects that could have received funding since 2013, although we tentatively believe that we would have heard about large new projects in the course of our conversations with experts in the field (more on our process below). In addition, our spreadsheet of projects does not account for research that is supported by general institutional resources (such as unrestricted funding to a university, graduate students’ stipends, or computing resources). We would plan to make further inquiries about new projects before committing significant resources to the field.

Questions for further investigation

Our research in this area has been relatively limited, and many important questions remain unanswered by our investigation. If we were to do further research in this area, we might attempt to answer questions such as:

  • How has the development of other potentially dangerous technologies been governed?
  • How can a philanthropist contribute to the development of governance mechanisms for geoengineering?
  • Does public discussion of SRM either increase or decrease climate change mitigation efforts?
  • How likely is it that one state would decide to deploy SRM unilaterally?

Our process

We were initially introduced to SRM governance as an issue during our investigations of climate change and geoengineering. During those investigations, and as part of this targeted investigation of SRM governance, we have spoken to experts on climate change, geoengineering and SRM governance. The following conversations contained at least some discussion of SRM governance and contributed to our understanding of the topic:

We had several follow-up conversations with Andy Parker of SRMGI. We also read several papers by SRM scientists which were recommended to us during these conversations, as well as four major reports on geoengineering: by the Royal Society20, the Bipartisan Policy Center21, the SRM Governance Initiative (SRMGI)22, and the National Research Council23. Each provides a broad overview of the field of SRM governance at the time of publication.

Sources

Document Source
Bipartisan Policy Center 2011 Source (archive)
FICER website 2015 Source (archive)
GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Jane C.S. Long, June 1, 2012 Source
Morgan, Nordhaus and Gottlieb 2013 Source (archive)
National Research Council 2015 Source (archive)
Parson and Keith 2013 Source (archive)
Robock 2008 Source (archive)
Royal Society 2009 Source (archive)
Schäfer et al. 2013 Source (archive)
SRMGI 2011 Source (archive)
  • 1.
    • We find Table S.1 from the National Research Council 2015 (pg. 4) useful to understand some of the differences between CDR and SRM (the National Research Council refers to SRM as ‘albedo modification’):
      Carbon dioxide removal proposals… Albedo modification proposals…
      … address the cause of human-induced climate change (high atmospheric GHG concentrations). … do not address cause of human-induced climate change (high atmospheric GHG concentrations).
      … do not introduce novel global risks. … introduce novel global risks.
      … are currently expensive (or comparable to the cost of emission reduction). … are inexpensive to deploy (relative to cost of emissions reduction).
      … may produce only modest climate effects within decades. … can produce substantial climate effects within years.
      … raise fewer and less difficult issues with respect to global governance. … raise difficult issues with respect to global governance.
      … will be judged largely on questions related to cost. … will be judged largely on questions related to risk.
      … may be implemented incrementally with limited effects as society becomes more serious about reducing GHG concentrations or slowing their growth. … could be implemented suddenly, with large-scale impacts before enough research is available to understand their risks relative to inaction.
      … require cooperation by major carbon emitters to have a significant effect. … could be done unilaterally.
      … for likely future emissions scenarios, abrupt termination would have limited consequences … for likely future emissions scenarios, if abruptly terminated would produce significant consequences.
    • Royal Society 2009 pg. ix: “Geoengineering methods can usefully be divided into two basic ‘classes’:
      1. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques which remove CO2 from the atmosphere;
      2. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) techniques that reflect a small percentage of the sun’s light and heat back into space.

      Both Carbon Dioxide Removal and Solar Radiation Management methods have the ultimate aim of reducing global temperatures, but there are major differences in their modes of action, the timescales over which they are effective, temperature effects and other consequences, so that they are generally best considered separately.
      Carbon dioxide removal techniques address the root cause of climate change by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
      Solar radiation management techniques attempt to offset effects of increased greenhouse gas concentrations by causing the Earth to absorb less solar radiation.”

  • 2.
    • Royal Society 2009 pg. x: “Solar Radiation Management techniques directly modify the Earth’s radiation balance, and would take only a few years to have an effect on climate once they had been deployed. They do not treat the root cause of climate change (increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) but because they act quickly, they could be useful in an emergency, for example to avoid reaching a climate ‘tipping point’. Methods considered in this study include:
      • Increasing the surface reflectivity of the planet, by brightening human structures (eg by painting them white), planting of crops with a high reflectivity, or covering deserts with reflective material;
      • Enhancement of marine cloud reflectivity;
      • Mimicking the effects of volcanic eruptions by injecting sulphate aerosols into the lower stratosphere;
      • Placing shields or deflectors in space to reduce the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth.”
    • National Research Council 2015 pg. 43: “Rather than discuss every potential means of modifying Earth’s albedo that has been proposed, this report will focus on the two strategies that have received the most attention and which may most feasibly have a substantial climate impact: stratospheric aerosol injection and marine cloud brightening. The stratospheric aerosol and marine boundary layer cloud schemes are the ones that have been most extensively studied so far, and are also the ones that are the closest to being deployable in the limited sense of technical ability to inject sufficient material into the atmosphere to cause a significant (if not necessarily well controlled) modification to Earth’s albedo.”
  • 3.

    National Research Council 2015:

    • “The observed cooling following large eruptions provided much of the initial stimulus for the idea that albedo modification could help offset effects of warming due to anthropogenic CO2 increase, and attempts to model the observed effects of volcanic eruptions can provide some insight into the complexity of the processes and some of the unknowns that still need to be addressed. The climate effects of a single pulse of aerosols such as is produced by volcanoes would differ in important ways from the effects of a sustained effort to maintain a persistent aerosol layer (Box 3.3). Nonetheless, volcanoes provide an excellent opportunity to test and improve our understanding of relevant physical processes.” pg. 59
    • “There is ample evidence that cloud albedo is strongly affected by aerosol particles, and that mankind is able to influence the albedo of clouds. Figure 3.16 shows an example of “ship tracks,” bright areas of clouds produced by aerosol particles in the exhaust emissions of commercial cargo ships which act as CCN [cloud-condensation nuclei] in the marine boundary layer off the coast of California. Ship tracks were first reported in satellite observations by Conover (1966). These plumes are emitted by large, mostly commercial ships motoring at speeds of 20-30 kts and emitting particles at rates of 10^19 particles/s with ambient windspeeds of 5 to 15 m/s (Hobbs et al., 2000).” pg. 105
  • 4.

    “Feasibility studies (based on models, as yet untested in the field) suggest that it may be possible to introduce aerosols into the stratosphere that can produce significant reduction in incoming sunlight (1 W/m^2 or more) with few if any major technological innovations required. Direct costs of deployment of a stratospheric aerosol layer of sufficient magnitude to offset global mean radiative forcing of CO2 have been estimated to be at least an order of magnitude less than the cost of decarbonizing the world’s economy. Although these cost estimates do not include an appropriate monitoring system or indemnification for damages from albedo modification actions, they are small enough that decisions are likely to be based primarily on considerations of potential benefits and risks, and not primarily on the basis of direct cost.” National Research Council 2015 pg. 7

  • 5.

    Three major reports on SRM (from the Royal Society in the United Kingdom, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the National Research Council) all make clear statements to this effect early on:

    • “The safest and most predictable method of moderating climate change is to take early and effective action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. No geoengineering method can provide an easy or readily acceptable alternative solution to the problem of climate change.” Royal Society 2009 pg. ix
    • “This task force strongly believes that climate remediation technologies are no substitute for controlling risk through climate mitigation (i.e. reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) and climate adaptation (i.e. enhancing the resilience of man-made and natural systems to climate changes).” Bipartisan Policy Center 2011 pg. 3
    • “Recommendation 1: Efforts to address climate change should continue to focus most heavily on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in combination with adapting to the impacts of climate change because these approaches do not present poorly defined and poorly quantified risks and are at a greater state of technological readiness.” National Research Council 2015 pg. 3
  • 6.
    • “The Royal Society 2009 report Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty concluded that solar radiation management (SRM) does not present an alternative to GHG reductions (see Box 1.1 for more details). However, it may one day be a useful way to augment mitigation and adaptation responses, and it may be the only option for reducing global temperatures quickly in the event of a climate emergency.” SRMGI 2011 pg. 11
    • “Geoengineering methods could however potentially be useful in future to augment continuing efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions, and so should be subject to more detailed research and analysis.” Royal Society 2009 pg. ix
    • “Although there are ongoing efforts at climate adaptation in many communities, both humans and ecosystems face substantial challenges in adapting to the varied impacts of climate change over the coming century. For that reason, it may be prudent to examine additional options for limiting the risks from climate change (namely CDR and albedo modification), which could contribute to a broader portfolio of responses, even as mitigation and adaptation remain the primary emphasis. The Committee evaluated CDR and albedo modification within this broader portfolio of climate response.” National Research Council 2015 pg. ix (‘albedo modification’ is used in this report to refer to SRM)
  • 7.

    Two examples of technologies which were (or are) subject to some kind of governance while under development, and which we have seen compared to SRM:

    • Recombinant DNA (rDNA): In the 1970s, scientists researching rDNA imposed guidelines on themselves to restrict certain types of research. We have heard both that this is and is not a good precedent for how SRM governance could work:
      • On the one hand, this is an example of successful self-governance from within a scientific field. Jane Long brought our attention to it as a possible precedent for SRM; see GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Jane C.S. Long, June 1, 2012.
      • On the other hand, Schäfer et al. 2013 points out that the potential problems with rDNA were primarily technical, while much of the concern directed towards SRM has to do with public perceptions and political ramifications, and argues that self-governance will not adequately address these issues.
    • Ocean fertilization: This is a method of geoengineering that falls into the category of carbon dioxide removal (CDR), discussed above. Ocean fertilization has been the subject of international agreements to restrict research, in the form of resolutions by the Convention on Biological Diversity, the London Convention (LC) and the London Protocol (LP). The LC and LP have also adopted an Ocean Fertilization Assessment Framework, used to determine whether proposed experiments should be considered ‘legitimate scientific research’ or not, and are considering becoming involved in the regulation of marine geoengineering activities. These agreements are not legally binding. This form of governance provides an example of the process by which an international body develops guidelines for a controversial research area. SRMGI 2011 (pgs. 33-35) discusses the international mechanisms around ocean fertilization, and how they relate to SRM governance, in some depth.
  • 8.

    Table S.1 from the National Research Council 2015 (pg. 4) describes some differences between SRM (which the report calls ‘albedo modification’) and carbon dioxide removal, another type of geoengineering:

    Carbon dioxide removal proposals… Albedo modification proposals…
    … address the cause of human-induced climate change (high atmospheric GHG concentrations). … do not address cause of human-induced climate change (high atmospheric GHG concentrations).
    … do not introduce novel global risks. … introduce novel global risks.
    … are currently expensive (or comparable to the cost of emission reduction). … are inexpensive to deploy (relative to cost of emissions reduction).
    … may produce only modest climate effects within decades. … can produce substantial climate effects within years.
    … raise fewer and less difficult issues with respect to global governance. … raise difficult issues with respect to global governance.
    … will be judged largely on questions related to cost. … will be judged largely on questions related to risk.
    … may be implemented incrementally with limited effects as society becomes more serious about reducing GHG concentrations or slowing their growth. … could be implemented suddenly, with large-scale impacts before enough research is available to understand their risks relative to inaction.
    … require cooperation by major carbon emitters to have a significant effect. … could be done unilaterally.
    … for likely future emissions scenarios, abrupt termination would have limited consequences … for likely future emissions scenarios, if abruptly terminated would produce significant consequences.
  • 9.

    “Because air, land, and the upper ocean respond quickly to changes in radiative forcing, an abrupt termination of albedo modification would result in rapid warming, with global mean temperatures rising within a decade or two to levels close to what would have been experienced without albedo modification (Jones et al., 2013; Matthews and Caldeira, 2007). The possibility of rapid warming is a novel and potentially severe risk not present in the unmodified high-CO2 state, in which temperature increases more slowly over time. As a result, the choice of a climate future in which a high CO2 concentration is compensated by a high degree of albedo modification risks putting Earth’s climate in a precarious state. Phasing albedo modification in or out over many decades, such as might be done to give human and natural systems a chance to better adapt to the resulting temperature change (MacMartin et al., 2014; Wigley, 2006), would reduce the time span over which Earth was subject to termination risk, but an abrupt termination risk will always be present if albedo modification is being used to counter a substantial fraction of the CO2 forcing.” National Research Council 2015 pg. 63

  • 10.
    • “Albedo modification can in principle reduce the annually averaged global mean temperature to a given target level, but the resulting climate will be different in a number of important ways from the low-CO2 climate with natural albedo. There is potential for substantial consequences to other aspects of the climate system, including precipitation; regional temperature; atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns; stratospheric temperature, chemistry, and dynamics; and the amount and characteristics of sunlight reaching the surface (see sections in Chapter 3 on Modeling and Environmental Consequences).” National Research Council 2015 pg. 40
    • “3. Ozone depletion. Aerosol particles in the stratosphere serve as surfaces for chemical reactions that destroy ozone in the same way that water and nitric acid aerosols in polar stratospheric clouds produce the seasonal Antarctic ozone hole. For the next four decades or so, when the concentration of anthropogenic ozone-depleting substances will still be large enough in the stratosphere to produce this effect, additional aerosols from geoengineering would destroy even more ozone and increase damaging ultraviolet flux to Earth’s surface.” Robock 2008 pg. 15
  • 11.

    “Because air, land, and the upper ocean respond quickly to changes in radiative forcing, an abrupt termination of albedo modification would result in rapid warming, with global mean temperatures rising within a decade or two to levels close to what would have been experienced without albedo modification (Jones et al., 2013; Matthews and Caldeira, 2007). The possibility of rapid warming is a novel and potentially severe risk not present in the unmodified high-CO2 state, in which temperature increases more slowly over time. As a result, the choice of a climate future in which a high CO2 concentration is compensated by a high degree of albedo modification risks putting Earth’s climate in a precarious state. Phasing albedo modification in or out over many decades, such as might be done to give human and natural systems a chance to better adapt to the resulting temperature change (MacMartin et al., 2014; Wigley, 2006), would reduce the time span over which Earth was subject to termination risk, but an abrupt termination risk will always be present if albedo modification is being used to counter a substantial fraction of the CO2 forcing.” National Research Council 2015 pg. 63

  • 12.
    • “Research may generate its own momentum and create a constituency in favour of large-scale research and even deployment. On the other hand, ignorance about SRM technology may not diminish the likelihood of its use, and in fact might increase it.” SRMGI 2011 pg. 9
    • “The climate science community has been aware of the possibility of performing SRM for decades. However, most researchers have shied away from working in this area, in part because of a concern that the more that is known, the greater the chance that someone will try to do it. Although such concerns may have been valid in the past, we believe that the world has now passed a tipping point. In our view, the risks today of not knowing whether and how SRM might work are greater than any risks associated with performing such research.” Morgan, Nordhaus and Gottlieb 2013 pgs. 40-41
  • 13.

    SRMGI 2011 goes into some detail about possibilities for the development of governance mechanisms. “Chapter 4: Governance of Research and Other Sociopolitical Considerations” in National Research Council 2015 contains a useful summary of the main governance discussions (including papers, workshops and other reports) to date.

    There are two issues on which we have seen widespread agreement:

    • Transparency and openness. Public suspicion or hostility towards SRM research is considered a significant problem. Ensuring that the public is aware of what research is being undertaken and why, as well as making experimental results publicly available, are seen as important steps to reduce this kind of suspicion, while also allowing scientists and governments to keep track of what research is being done by whom.
    • Ensuring that research is directed towards producing beneficial outcomes. Research should aim to improve society’s understanding of the impacts and potential risks of SRM, with the end goal to protect the collective interests of humanity, broadly construed (not the interests of, for example, a certain research lab, nation or private interest).

    Other important questions about how to govern research remain open:

    • What exactly counts as SRM research? Much of the research that contributes to scientific understanding of SRM also contributes to other scientific fields (for example, atmospheric science or general climate change research). Applying regulations or restrictions to studies based on whether or not their stated purpose is geoengineering may cause researchers to hide their intentions in order to avoid these restrictions. A different way to define which research is subject to governance would be to base it on the activities being carried out (e.g., restricting field tests which involve injecting particles into the atmosphere, but leaving computer modeling studies largely unrestricted).
    • What kind of SRM research should be subject to governance? Governance could involve restricting certain types of research, but need not only relate to restrictions; a governance scheme could also serve the purpose of increasing transparency, or steering which research is undertaken. There is a clear case that experiments that pose direct physical risks via unintended side effects on the climate should be subject to some form of restriction. It is less obvious that other types of research (such as indoor experiments or climate simulations) should be restricted in any way. Reasons given to place restrictions even on less risky research usually include ‘slippery slope’ arguments (discussed above) or concerns that more geoengineering research could erode the political will to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the ‘risk-compensation’ or ‘moral hazard’ argument). It could also be argued that less risky experiments should be left out of governance arrangements entirely, on the grounds that compliance with such arrangements can be costly (which could result in lower output of potentially valuable research). An intermediate position is that all types of SRM research should be included in a governance scheme, but that certain types of ‘safe’ research should be allowed to continue unrestricted within this scheme as long as they comply with other aspects of the scheme (e.g. transparency requirements). In each case it is not straightforward to establish the boundary between ‘dangerous’ and ‘safe’ research.
      Two examples of attempts to classify types of research according to how much governance they need:
      • Table 3.1 in SRMGI 2011 (pg. 26) attempts to divide potential SRM activities according to whether they have “negligible direct risk” or “potentially direct risks”. It describes 5 types of SRM activities, and includes “non-hazardous studies”, “laboratory studies or passive observations of nature” and “small field trials” in the former category, with “medium and large-scale field trials” and “deployment” in the latter category. The table does not clarify the boundary between small and medium field trials.
      • Parson and Keith 2013 (pg. 1279) suggests setting two thresholds: a low threshold, below which research may proceed with minimal governance, and a high threshold, above which all research would be subject to a moratorium. There would remain a large “gray zone” between these two thresholds; Parson and Keith predict that experiments in this middle area would be unlikely to be pursued at this time even without an explicit ban.
    • What form should governance take? Possible approaches to governance include:
      • Researcher-driven codes of conduct or community norms. This is essentially the process by which research in most scientific fields is governed. This kind of governance is unofficial and difficult to enforce, and thus may not be sufficient for SRM research.
      • National regulations. In states with well-developed legal systems, legislation to regulate research into SRM could be quickly implemented and effectively enforced. However, relying on this method of governance may result in states acting in their own self-interest, rather than according to global consensus.
      • International bodies, treaties, or agreements. Existing international bodies could take on the task of governing SRM research, or a new body could be created. International governance mechanisms are likely to be widely considered legitimate, but may be difficult to establish.

    We do not have a strong view on how an appropriate governance scheme should be structured.

  • 14.

    “It is important to give careful thought to the mechanisms for governing research on albedo modification, since they may later form part of the basis for a mechanism for governing sanctioned or unsanctioned deployment should a choice ever be made to proceed to that stage. Albedo modification will test international relationships in unprecedented ways. Although coordinated international efforts to deal with global scale threats have been successful in the past, such as the Montreal Protocol, no similar international effort has been undertaken to address the sort of deliberate global alteration that would be involved in albedo modification.
    Questions that will likely need to be addressed in any future international agreement governing albedo modification include:

    1. How is it decided when the benefit to albedo modification will outweigh the harm? What metric should be used?
    2. What obligation do the acting parties have to compensate others for damages, anticipated or otherwise, caused by albedo modification? Who decides causality and how is it determined?
    3. Who decides what is benefit versus harm, and on what time and space scales are such determinations made?”

    National Research Council 2015 pgs. 149-150

  • 15.

    The two projects ‘Climate Geoengineering Governance’ and ‘Global Governance of Climate Engineering’ explicitly focus on governance. After reading descriptions of the other projects (from their websites, in most cases), we determined that the following were also at least partially related to governance:

    • European Transdisciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering (EuTRACE)
    • Climate Engineering: Risks, Challenges, Opportunities?
    • Integrated assessment of Geoengineering Programme (IAGP)
    • Sustainable Interactions with the Atmosphere (SIWA)
    • Aerosol intervention technologies to cool the climate: costs, benefits, side effects, and governance (COOL)
    • The Ethics of Geoengineering: Investigating the Moral Challenges of Solar Radiation Management
    • Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM)
    • Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER)
    • G360
    • Geoengineering Climate: Technical Evaluation and Discussion of Impacts
  • 16.

    Four major reports have assisted our investigation:

    The Royal Society and the Bipartisan Policy Center each funded their respective reports. The other two reports were funded as follows:

    • “The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative is co-convened by the following organisations: Environmental Defense Fund… the Royal Society… TWAS [The World Academy of Sciences]… SRMGI was funded by the three convening organisations, and by contributions from: the Carbon War Room… Zennström Philanthropies… the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research”. SRMGI 2011 pg. 4
    • “This study was supported by the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. intelligence community, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Energy (the Statement of Task for the Committee can be found in Appendix A).” National Research Council 2015 pg. 1
  • 17.

    The main private philanthropist we are aware of in this area is Bill Gates, who personally finances the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER). FICER supports projects across a range of areas, including some projects related to SRM and SRM governance. For example, FICER has provided financial support to the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI), which was created in 2010 following the Royal Society 2009 report on geoengineering.

    FICER website 2015:

    • “Grants for research are provided to Harvard University from gifts made by Mr. Bill Gates from his personal funds. The activities of the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research fall outside the scope of activities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. FICER is not a Foundation project and has no relationship with it.”
    • “The fund supports a wide range of projects such as:
      • climate related technology and policy analysis;
      • modeling the climate system;
      • developing technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere;
      • researching approaches to reduce planetary absorption of solar radiation; and
      • holding international workshops to discuss governance for climate intervention technology.”

    SRMGI 2011 pg. 7:

    • “In September 2009, the Royal Society published a report that reviewed ideas for deliberately intervening in the climate to counteract global warming - techniques collectively described as ‘geoengineering’ (Royal Society 2009). The report recommended that the scientific and governance challenges posed by geoengineering should be explored in more detail, and that future work should take into account the significant differences between the two classes of methods: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM).
      As its own contribution to taking forward the 2009 report’s recommendations, in March 2010 the Royal Society entered into a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world, to look in greater depth at the governance issues raised by research into SRM methods. This project is known as the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative (SRMGI).”
    • “SRMGI was funded by the three convening organisations, and by contributions from: the Carbon War Room… Zennström Philanthropies… the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research.”
  • 18.

    As of this page’s publication, the spreadsheet of geoengineering projects displays a figure around $7 million in the “TOTAL: Current annualized funding” cell (not $11 million as stated on our geoengineering page). This figure updates automatically based on the dates of each project, so the change in total since the publication of our investigation into geoengineering implies that projects with approximately $4 million in funding have reached completion since then.

  • 19.

    The two projects ‘Climate Geoengineering Governance’ and ‘Global Governance of Climate Engineering’ explicitly focus on governance. After reading descriptions of the other projects (from their websites, in most cases), we determined that the following were also at least partially related to governance:

    • European Transdisciplinary Assessment of Climate Engineering (EuTRACE)
    • Climate Engineering: Risks, Challenges, Opportunities?
    • Integrated assessment of Geoengineering Programme (IAGP)
    • Sustainable Interactions with the Atmosphere (SIWA)
    • Aerosol intervention technologies to cool the climate: costs, benefits, side effects, and governance (COOL)
    • The Ethics of Geoengineering: Investigating the Moral Challenges of Solar Radiation Management
    • Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM)
    • Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER)
    • G360
    • Geoengineering Climate: Technical Evaluation and Discussion of Impacts

    Current annualized funding for these projects, according to our estimates from 2013, is around $6 million.

  • 20.

    Royal Society 2009

  • 21.

    Bipartisan Policy Center 2011

  • 22.

    SRMGI 2011

  • 23.

    National Research Council 2015